We Can Do It!, work-incentive poster for the Westinghouse by artist J. Howard Miller, 1942
The full mobilization of American society during the Second World War prompted a massive advertising campaign from the federal government’s Office of War Information (OWI). That campaign had many facets, including a sizable print campaign that targeted public spaces. The posters that emerged from the OWI remain some of the most eye-catching and memorable mass-audience images in historical memory.
Historian Christopher Hamner explores those well-known posters, focusing on two important themes: the differing portrayals of America’s enemies, and the evolution of what were deemed acceptable roles for men and women amid the turmoil of war.
July 17 This Is the Enemy
The government portrayed the American effort in the Second World War as a crusade against totalitarianism: German fascism in Europe and a militarized Japanese empire in the Pacific. Official messaging depicted both struggles as righteous, necessary, and morally unambiguous. But the portrayal of German and Japanese enemies made fascinating, and sometimes subtle, distinctions between the war in Europe and that in the Pacific. Hamner explores some of the best-known wartime images, examining them for details that suggest intriguing patterns in how Americans were being told by their government to think about their two enemies.
July 24 We Can Do It
Mobilizing millions of men to fight in war zones across the globe required a profound reordering of nearly every facet of American life, including the economy and labor force. With more than 16 million servicemen abroad, the government turned out of necessity to women—until then largely relegated to “women’s work” when they labored outside the home—to fill that worker shortfall. But mobilizing women within the industrial economy was not simply a matter of opening jobs. The government also created an extensive advertising campaign to redefine women’s roles and femininity more generally, as leaders sought to encourage women to cross traditional gender boundaries. Hamner examines American posters that depict shifting gender roles during wartime, contrasting the visions of masculinity and femininity the government presented its citizens during the buildup to a “total war”